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Elena cover photo

Elena 2012


Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Producer n/a
Directed by Marcelo Martín
DVD , color, 88 min.

General Adult
Architecture, Buildings, Constitutional Rights, Poverty, Property, Public Health, Social Problems, Urban Areas

Date Entered: 12/10/2015

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

According to one of the provisos in Article 9 of the 1976 Cuban constitution, “the State…works to achieve that no family lacks a comfortable home.” For the residents of Vapor 117, a crumbling apartment complex in Central Havana, that statement is both fraudulent and heartbreaking. Like more than 5000 buildings in Cuba, the Elena building has been in a state of disintegration for more than 25 years. At one point in the late 1980s, the 53 Elena apartments were evacuated and the residents sent to temporary housing while kitchens and bathrooms were demolished. Most returned, after several years in shelters, to living spaces with no repairs, stairways, water, electricity, or sewers. When the film begins in 2009, another round of government-sponsored repair work is about to begin. Like all past promises, however, materials and workers soon disappear. The residents of Elena are no better off than before

Cuban filmmaker Martín records the stories of several Elena residents while also documenting the horrendous living conditions and the government’s failure to provide for its citizens. Filmed in close quarters with a MiniDV camera, the powerful images and stories of those affected by the government’s neglect are an effective example of investigative journalism and criticism. Intended for Cuban audiences, the Elena residents ask how their government has the resources to build new structures but cannot repair existing ones. The film will also resonate with U.S. viewers who for many decades had only anecdotal evidence of the country’s poverty. The short documentary film is recommended for general adult audiences with an interest in Cuban history, politics, and society.